Dear Friends, Family and Fans,

I am emailing you from a bus on my way to Bremen, Germany, shortly after leaving Paris, France. I can not begin to express what an amazing experience these past three weeks have been. It has been a non-stop adventure with little time to spare, but by popular demand, I am emailing you with with some stories. These are the adventures of my most recent trip through Europe, playing concerts, recording, meeting amazing people, and eating too much amazing food (mostly croissants…mostly while in Paris). By the time you’re reading this, I will be back home (hopefully) safe in Chicago, and will have a lot to share. Every Tuesday, I will post a new story on my blog until the story is complete. So, welcome to part one:

The Buddy Rich Memorial Concert

A few months ago, I was approached by the Buddy Rich Big Band to be the official piano player in the group. The group is lead by Cathy Rich, Buddy’s daughter. My friend Geoffrey Lowe was the one who recommended me for the group. Fast-forward several months, and we’re on a plane to London to play the concert for Buddy Rich’s 25th Memorial Anniversary.

The core group consists of Gregg Potter (drums), Sasha Brusin (guitar), Geoffrey Lowe (bass), Cathy Rich (vocals and manager), and myself (piano/synths). Every single person in this group is sweet, friendly, compassionate, and terribly fun/quirky/crazy in their own unique way, so all the rehearsals, traveling, and performance experiences have been AWESOME. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to adventure with.

We landed in London Saturday morning, and spent the day hanging, exploring downtown London, and attempting to stay awake an extra eighteen hours to kill the jet lag with the core group + Toby Cruse (promoter) and John Blackwell (drummer), both of whom added great vibes to the hang. Eventually, we went back to the hotel that night and crashed.

The next day was the rehearsal. This was the one rehearsal we had before the concert, and we were about to meet most of the people who would be performing with us the next day, including Dave Weckl, Ian Pace, Bruce Dickinson, and sixteen of London’s best horn players. This rehearsal went almost exactly as we had hoped. The horns nailed all the parts on the first take, and the drummers were all great (except for one funny story which I’ll only tell you in person). Everyone was exceptionally friendly and open (except for the one story, lol) and though it was a marathon seven-hour rehearsal, it went pretty smoothly. Then dinner, a hang, and sleep to get ready for the next morning’s sound check.

Then comes Monday, the day of the concert. We get to the Palladium at 11am, wait for everything to get set up, and then sound check. At this time, the crew also practiced the elaborate system they had set up for changing drummers in between songs. Each drummer had his or her own kit set up on a wheeling platform. When one drummer was finished, the techs would wheel him off stage, still sitting on his own drum set, and wheel the next drummer on stage from the other side. It was a pretty cool system, and made me very glad that I was not one of the techs at the concert who had to handle the physical logistics.

Then after a quick change back at the hotel (which was a couple blocks away), we’re ready to hit. The concert opened up with a SLAMMIN piece played by the core group with Gregg Potter on drums, and then the craziness ensued. Elliott Henshaw rocked out a couple pieces, then Gavin Harrison played an amazing arrangement of Killer Joe.

Cathy Rich, who was hosting the evening, introduced the second set with a song of her own. We did Buddy’s version of “The Beat Goes On”, with Cathy on vocals, at which point I broke into an extended synthesizer solo, rocking out on the moog sounds a-la my mentors Robert Irving III and Herbie Hancock. I got another chance to rock out on the synthesizer as we continued with pieces played by Gregg Potter on drums, sending the audience into a whirlwind of energy and excitement through our core group’s slamming sound.

Ian Pace and Bruce Dickinson took the stage to rock out “Smoke On The Water”, on which I played the organ parts as closely as possible to the original. I got a bunch of comments afterwards that my mannerisms while playing were very reminiscent of Deep Purple’s main keyboard player. Though I had never seen Deep Purple live, I figured that my tendency to dance around and visually rock-out while playing were probably relatively in-line with what a rock keyboardist would do. Also, I was wearing my rock-star-hat-and-shades outfit, so that probably helped with the simile.

Then Ginger Baker took the stage. Due to an earlier event, we decided to scrap the horn arrangement for Sunshine Of Your Love, so I ended up playing the melody with Ginger and the quartet. I must admit, it was quite a trip playing Eric Clapton’s original vocal parts on the organ, but we rocked out anyway, even into the extended 6/8(ish) jam at the end of the song under Ginger’s direction.

After Ginger, Gregg Potter rocked out a few more tunes, slamming the audience against the back-wall of the Palladium with a wall of amazing chops and killin’ energy.

Then it was Dave Weckl’s turn. Sitting in the piano chair next to Dave playing drums was quite a trip for me, as I’ve been listening to him since my first fusion band (called “Bucket Shop”) when I was 16 years old. Dave was on the first CD mix of great fusion that Robert Gay gave me when I joined this band of Chicago pros as “the kid” in the group. Dave slammed out four of Buddy’s swing pieces, nailing every bit of it. Then he broke into an extended drum solo piece, showing off an incredible depth of knowledge, precision, and compositional prowess on the instrument.

After Dave finished to a standing-ovation, Gregg Potter came out to do one last tornado of rocking-out, which lifted the audience into a frenzy of musical energy as more drummers came out one-by-one, trading solos with three drum sets on stage, and ending the concert in a battlefield of percussive madness with Gregg Potter, Dave Weckl, Ian Pace, Gavin Harrison, Elliott Henshaw and John Blackwell all on stage in a massive rhythmic jam.

The lights went out, the crowd went crazy, and we all let our shoulders down with a sigh of “Oh my God, we did it.”

The after-party was upstairs at the Palladium, and I got the chance to have some last conversations with my new friends from the past few days. Check back next week for part two of the adventure: The Trio in Northern England!

Peace and Love,